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Senators Nelson and Rubio host red tide briefing with CCL, Ocean Conservancy

red tide briefing

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) addresses the red tide briefing on Capitol Hill on Sept. 27.

By Adeline DeYoung

On September 27th, Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Ocean Conservancy hosted a Capitol Hill briefing on the Florida red tide crisis, a phenomenon exacerbated by human influence that is devastating Floridian coasts and economies. The briefing was sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in a bipartisan effort to show how this problem is affecting Floridians.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), the newest member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, addressed the briefing, saying that his goal is “to show the Republican majority that in Florida, no matter how conservative we may be about border security, foreign policy, taxes or who knows what, we are all environmentalists.”

Four experts on the issue flew to Washington for the briefing:

  • Dr. Michael Crosby, CEO and President of Mote Marine Laboratory
  • Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resource Policy Director, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
  • John Lai, President and CEO of Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce
  • Dr. Aaron Adams, Director of Science and Conservation at Bonefish and Tarpon Trust

“Seeing it on television is like seeing the Grand Canyon on television,” Mote Marine Laboratory’s Dr. Crosby said. He described the impact of the red tide crisis and explained the nuance of how this naturally occurring phenomenon has increased in length and severity due to higher nutrient runoff and warmer ocean waters – both of which are human induced.

Lai from Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce shared the startling economic impacts in his home, Sanibel Island, where the main source of revenue is tourism. “Since the red tide event began in Sanibel on July 21st, the area has seen a $19,133,802 loss in revenue.” This is a 35.8% decrease from 2017, a year when revenue was down due to the fact that Sanibel Island was closed for 10 days because of Hurricane Irma.  

Red tide’s effect on wildlife has been devastating, said Wessel from Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. She painted a horrific picture of  “2,200 tons of dead marine life have been cleaned off the beach, equivalent to removing 2,200 African Elephants.”

Dr. Adams from Bonefish and Tarpon Trust talked about the economic and cultural impact on the fishing industry, as well as the systemic problem at hand, “We can and should be concerned about this particular event but it’s got to be bigger than that. We can’t get conned into thinking it’s a one off… we have to stop reacting to the symptoms and begin addressing the disease.”

red tide nelson

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) addresses the red tide briefing. (Photo by Rafeed Hussein, Ocean Conservancy)

Sen. Nelson (shown left) ended the briefing by hitting home on how climate change is exacerbating red tide; “There’s an element of clean air that affects this, too, because when you put up CO2 and methane up into the upper atmosphere, it operates as a greenhouse gas, it traps the extra heat that would otherwise radiate back out into space, and it heats the earth up. Ninety percent of that extra heat is absorbed by the oceans and thus you get the phenomenon of number one, climate change, number two, sea level rise.”

After the briefing, three panelists met with Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Rep. Rooney (R-FL) to discuss the impacts of red tide and and possible solutions.

On a busy day at the Capitol, when most of the nation was captivated by the divisive Senate hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, over 60 congressional staffers and NGO representatives came together for a bipartisan briefing on an issue that is having a major economic and environmental impact on our country. Citizens’ Climate Lobby thanks Senators Nelson and Rubio, as well as Climate Solutions Caucus Members Rooney and Crist, for reminding us that the environment is an issue that, out of great necessity, is becoming less partisan rather than more.

Adeline DeYoung is CCL’s Legislative Assistant and has been with the organization since 2015. She graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Political Science and BA in Sustainability from San Diego State University. Adeline is currently working on her Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown University.

Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.